The smile on her face is contagious.
Audrey Sullivan fits perfectly into her surroundings. Behind the “Red Door” at 104 Main Street in downtown Farmville, I am immediately surrounded by beautiful art—the kind that expresses freedom and joy. Walking past the entry into the studio, brushes, paints and well-worn chairs welcome artists of all ages. Here children and adults enjoy classes and workshops on all things creative. Private paint parties to celebrate birthdays, showers and just plain-ol’ friendship are a highlight for many who come to the studio.
The creative energy that fills the space is palpable. Past the artist work tables and up the stairs to the loft above, I am surrounded by a chaotic collection of life and family; pieces of paper and odd shaped vases, baskets and boxes hiding unknown treasures.
Audrey invites me into her office and offers me a seat. And there I learn the secret—the secret behind the Red Door.
“The first time I laid eyes on him I was madly in love with him. He didn’t know I was alive,” Audrey says. “I claimed him. He didn’t know I claimed him, but I claimed him.”
However, they lived the nomadic life of military kids and eventually moved away from each other. “I accidentally borrowed a few pictures of him when we left Italy,” Audrey says with a smile. “We lost track of each other. I ended up married and had a daughter and a son. He got married and had a daughter and a son. We both got divorced and in 2000 we both were single,” she said.
That’s when Audrey and Kent learned about a reunion for Forrest Sherman High School taking place in San Diego, Ca., later that year. Neither of them planned to go until the last minute when fate took over.
After years of separation, Audrey walked up to Kent at the reunion and said, “Hi, remember me? I’m Audrey Sullivan and I’m not thirteen anymore.”
Audrey had been right, Kent was hers.
“I always knew that he was supposed to be mine. I didn’t know when.” Audrey says.
On July 7, 2007, at 7 p.m., 7 years after they reconnected, Audrey and Kent were married with seven people in attendance. It was a long time coming but the two soul mates finally bonded forever. Audrey says, “It took me thirty years, but I got my man.”
After their marriage, Audrey and Kent eventually moved to Farmville to help Kent’s father, Quentin “Que” Wilhelmi, whose health was deteriorating, with the family farm in Darlington Heights. Wanting to serve her new community with her love of art, Audrey began searching for the perfect spot for an art studio.
“I knew I wanted a building on Main Street,” she says. She knew she was in the right place as soon as she went into 104 North Main. Above the studio, they created a living space that also supported Que’s needs.
Que was a very special person to many people. He not only served his country for 32 years as a pilot for the United States Navy but also, once retired, he tirelessly served Prince Edward County, a community he loved. Folks were drawn to him by his bright smile and his friendly, open personality. Que believed in Red Door 104 and he believed in Audrey.
Although he passed away last year, Que definitely left his mark, and the studio stands in honor of him. “Que was so proud of this place,” says Audrey.
Before long, Red Door 104 will be fully at home, imbedding a heartbeat of love and creativity downtown. The store’s namesake, a spectacular red door, will soon be installed in the Main Street entrance.
“The impetus for moving to Farmville was to care for Que. The unexpected surprise was that we fell in love with the town and the people.” says Audrey. “Kent and I have lived all over the world but neither of us has ever experienced this kind of acceptance, friendliness or passion for community as we have on Main Street.”
So when you see that Red Door on Main Street, remember its secret—the love of sweethearts, the love of family, the love of community and the love of art—and let your own love create ‘red doors’ for others to walk through.